Quantcast

How to Recycle Plastic Food Containers? Here Are Some Tips

Food

Recycling plastic is a no-brainer these days. Theoretically, it should be pretty easy. Use up the product, rinse out the container, toss it in the recycling bin. Voila! Off it goes to its inevitable reincarnation. Simple, right?


Not so fast. The reality is unfortunately far more complicated. Americans are locked into a dysfunctional relationship with plastic. Collectively, we generate approximately 33 million tons of plastic trash each year, but less than 10 percent of that actually gets recycled. And even if you want to recycle the stuff, the multiple types—polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, and so forth—lead to confusion about how and what plastics can successfully be accepted by most recycling programs. This is a common problem with food containers: Are those plastic clamshells that contain greens recyclable? What about that yogurt container? And that ketchup bottle—can the lid go in the blue bin, too? It's confusing.

"I think the public cares, but they have no idea what the numbers at the bottom of plastics mean," says Mitch Hedlund, executive director of Recycle Across America, an advocacy group that has created a standardized labeling system for recycling bins. "There is a lack of national communication to help the public know the difference between plastics—what is recyclable and what's not."

So what's an ecologically minded person to do? Crucially, the less plastic you can use, the better. And when it comes to the old "paper or plastic?" question, there's no debate: "Paper and cardboard are amazing if they're recycled," Hedlund says. That's because paper can be easily remade, and more people understand how to properly recycle it. (Though, as Hedlund points out, paper should be kept separate from other recycling to avoid touching food residue and other contaminants.)

Consuming less overall, choosing paper when given the option, and making recycling easier to understand may sound like simple solutions for the plastic problem, and that's exactly the point. "We're in a great position to make a change," said Hedlund. "But we need everybody to start unifying around common-sense solutions." Eventually, she explains, a critical mass of people changing their habits creates change. "My five-year goal is for people to say, 'Remember when recycling was confusing? Remember when most manufacturers weren't closing the loop? Remember when there was more plastic going into the oceans than there was going into remanufacturing?'" It's a noble dream—and, with a collective effort, a possible reality.

Want to make sure you're recycling correctly? The first step is to check with your recycling hauler to make sure you understand their rules—every program is different. With that said, Recycle Across America has pulled together some general guidelines. Below, we've pulled those that specifically relate to food and beverage containers:

  • Make sure all items are rinsed and clean before going into the recycling bin. Absolutely no food, liquids, or other contamination allowed. Yes, that means that the bottom of your pizza box needs to go in the compost (or the trash). You can, however, tear-off any non-greasy parts for disposable in the recycling bin.
  • Separate glass jars from their metal lids.
  • Inquire about how to recycle the lids of plastic bottles. In bigger, mixed systems, it's often preferred to keep them together, but many smaller programs only want the bottle, so the lid should go in the trash.
  • Keep aluminum foil, plastic utensils, Styrofoam containers, plastic wrap, or plastic wrappers (including baggies and bags) OUT of the recycling bin. Those items need to go into the trash unless your recycling program specifically gives the green light.
  • If you must collect your recycling in a plastic bag, use a clear or see-through blue bag.
  • Compostable plastics are great but they don't belong in a recycling bin (and not even in a home composting bin—only industrial or commercial composting options can take these items).

Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.

Related Articles Around the Web
    From Your Site Articles

    EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

    Activists in North Dakota confront pipeline construction activities. A Texas bill would impose steep penalties for such protests. Speak Freely / ACLU

    By Eoin Higgins

    A bill making its way through the Texas legislature would make protesting pipelines a third-degree felony, the same as attempted murder.

    Read More Show Less
    An Australian flag flutters in the wind in a dry drought-ridden landscape. Virginia Star / Moment / Getty Images

    Australia re-elected its conservative governing Liberal-National coalition Saturday, despite the fact that it has refused to cut down significantly on greenhouse gas emissions or coal during its time in power, The New York Times reported.

    Read More Show Less
    Sponsored
    Tree lined street, UK. Richard Newstead / Moment / Getty Images

    The UK government will fund the planting of more than 130,000 trees in English towns and cities in the next two years as part of its efforts to fight climate change, The Guardian reported Sunday.

    Read More Show Less
    A tropical storm above Bangkok on Aug. 04, 2016. Hristo Rusev/ NurPhoto / Getty Images

    By Jeff Turrentine

    First off: Bangkok Wakes to Rain, the intricately wrought, elegantly crafted debut novel by the Thai-American author Pitchaya Sudbanthad, isn't really about climate change. This tale set in the sprawling subtropical Thai capital is ultimately a kind of family saga — although its interconnected characters aren't necessarily linked by a bloodline. What binds them is their relationship to a small parcel of urban land on which has variously stood a Christian mission, an upper-class family house, and a towering condominium. All of the characters have either called this place home or had some other significant connection to it.

    Read More Show Less
    orn_france / iStock / Getty Images

    By Susan McCabe, BSc, RD

    Dioscorea alata is a species of yam commonly referred to as purple yam, ube, violet yam, or water yam.

    Read More Show Less
    Sponsored
    Left: MirageC / Moment / Getty Images Right: Pongsak Tawansaeng / EyeEm / Getty Images

    By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

    Sole water is water saturated with pink Himalayan salt.

    Read More Show Less
    People march to TCF Bank Stadium to protest against the mascot for the Washington Redskins before the game against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 2, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hannah Foslien / Getty Images

    Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law Thursday banning public schools or universities in the state from using Native American mascots, names or imagery. Mills' action will make Maine the first state in the nation with such a ban once it goes into effect later this year, The Bangor Daily News reported.

    Read More Show Less
    A man protests against the use of disposable plastics outside the Houses of Parliament on March 28 in London. John Keeble / Getty Images

    Plastic pollution across the globe is suffocating our planet and driving Earth toward catastrophic climatic conditions if not curbed significantly and immediately, according to a new report by the Center for International Environmental Law (CEIL).

    Read More Show Less